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An illuminating history and groundbreaking investigation tracing how a single trade organization turned itself into the most dangerous political weapon in America
When Americans hear the words “Chamber of Commerce,” many still think of the local business associations that spruce up Main Streets and sponsor Little League teams around the country. But the United States Chamber of Commerce is a different animal altogether. The Chamber was originally founded to give big business a voice during the long—and now almost inconceivable—period in American history that saw the rise of workers’ rights, consumer protections, and environmental awareness as national priorities. But over time, driven by an antigovernment ideology and its desire for financial and political power, the Chamber metastasized into a fighting force designed to protect the worst excesses of American industry.
The Chamber, through its veiled corporate sponsors, can take credit for some of the most disturbing trends in American life: the reversal of environmental protections, the destruction of unions and worker protections, the rise of virulent antigovernment ideology, the enlarged role of money in campaigns, and the creation of “astroturf” movements as cover for a corporate agenda. Through its propaganda, lobbying, and campaign cash, the Chamber has created a right-wing monster that even it struggles to control, a conservative movement that is destabilizing American democracy as never before.
The Influence Machine tells this history as a series of gripping narratives that take us into the backrooms of Washington, where the battles over how our country is run and regulated are fought, and then out into the world, where we see how the Chamber’s campaigns play out in real lives. In the end, Alyssa Katz reveals the hidden weaknesses of this seeming juggernaut and shows how its antidemocratic agenda can be reversed.
Praise for The Influence Machine
“Important and probing . . . a valuable and a sobering contribution to the study of power in American society . . . Katz has assembled a work of synthesis and insight. . . . The chamber has, she argues, effectively countered the influence of labor unions and contributed to the widening economic divide in American society. Those points are made forcefully and backed up impressively.”—Los Angeles Times
“An urgent look at the ‘political assault weapon’ that is transforming the country . . . [Katz] does invaluable work in tracing how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a relentless engine for pressing a ‘business of enterprise unfettered by government.’ . . . An eye-opening, maddening read.”—Kirkus Reviews
“With clarity and verve, but without polemic, investigative journalist Katz describes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s evolution into a many-armed behemoth. . . . [She] illustrates with several examples of how the organization has managed to influence courts, strong-arm Congress, cripple federal agencies, and sway the public with ‘voter education’ ads—and, more recently, it has exported cutthroat American business practices abroad.”—Publishers Weekly